Today all eyes are on Capitol Hill as General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Iraq. It’s the first time they’ll brief Congress on the war since last September. The hearings are so important that they’ve actually forced the presidential candidates into an unfamiliar position — namely, sitting in their chairs in the Senate. Senators John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama have taken a break from the campaign trail for the opportunity to question Petraeus and Crocker on the war. Call us cynical, but we guess there’s a chance they try to help themselves out politically as well.
• Craig Crawford writes that today’s hearings are Clinton’s chance to demonstrate her claim that she’s more prepared to lead on national-security issues than Obama. Obama, for his part, only needs to perform as well as Clinton to come away with a political victory. [CQ Politics]
• Elisabeth Bumiller says that the candidates face political perils as well as benefits as the hearings happen. McCain risks looking too much like a cheerleader for the administration, while Clinton and Obama must be careful not to seem too critical of Petraeus lest they appear critical of American troops by extension. [Politico]
• Michael Scherer believes that McCain will focus on the future of Iraq and that the Democratic candidates will focus on the mistakes leading up to the war. In the end, though, we will likely end the day with little substantial discussion. [Swampland/Time]
• Rich Lowry wonders how the Democratic candidates will respond to hearing politically inconvenient opinions from a general, considering how often they’ve criticized President Bush for dismissing the opinions of generals that didn’t mesh with the administration’s policy. [Corner/National Review]
• Aamer Madhani thinks the political stakes today are enormous and calls the hearings a “golden opportunity” for all the candidates “to show voters how they may operate as commander-in-chief.” [Swamp/Chicago Tribune]
• Taegan Goddard expects Obama to play it safe, and be more intent on not making mistakes than scoring points, while McCain will highlight the successes of the surge he supported. However, “no candidate has more on the line than Clinton.” [Political Insider/CQ Politics]
• Yochi J. Dreazen and Laura Meckler suspect that Iran may be as important a topic of discussion as Iraq. As with Iraq, there are risks for the candidates talking about Iran: If McCain sounds too hawkish, it could “persuade many voters that he is laying the groundwork for military action against Iran.” Obama and Clinton have also argued about the right approach to Iran, with Clinton hitting Obama on his willingness to talk with Iran’s leaders, and Obama criticizing Clinton for voting to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. [WSJ]
• Chuck Todd and friends note that while Petraeus is getting the most attention, the Democrats might be shrewd to score points off Ambassador Crocker on the lack of political progress in Iraq, as opposed to purely military success. [First Read/MSNBC] —Dan Amira
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.